Monday, October 01, 2007
HeraldTrib: John Reeder of the Green Party at the Arlington New Directions Coalition meeting proposed that the ANDC should support creation of the Arlington Housing Authority. Something the Green Party has proposed and supports. Mr. Reeder said that the Housing Authority would have the authority to seize property. What do you see as an authority’s role? Do you see it as something that would seize property even as a last resort?
Josh Ruebner: I’m not, I’m not quite sure that a public housing redevelopment authority would have that power. I would definitely need to look more into the law. But one of the things that we’ve talked about in making the case for the public housing authority is that it could potentially have the right of first refusal. If a developer wants to sell, that the county could have some preferential access to trying to buy that property.…There was a property there [near the Iwo Jima memorial] owned by Centex, I believe, and it was market rate affordable housing units and two years ago they razed the building, evicted all the tenants, and somehow the county board didn’t know about it….Now you have this huge gaping hole in this neighborhood. If we had public housing authority, the county could purchase that land, and turn it into affordable housing. But right now because the county hasn’t activated the public housing authority, it can’t do that. So having kind of first right of refusal on properties that developers want to get rid of would be a good way to add to the affordable housing stock.
HT: What’s your take on Day Laborer sites in the county?
JR: I think day laborer sites are an important tool. The fact is that we have incredibly low unemployment rates in Arlington…whether or not day laborers are regulated and have some kind of infrastructure to it, that’s going to take place. So I would much rather see it done in a regulated manner and in a way that tries to ensure that workers aren’t exploited.
HT: In this neighborhood we have problems with public drinking and loitering. It’s probably not the people who get the work who do most of the drinking, but the people who did not get work, or did not really want the work to begin with. How should the county handle the dichotomy between wanting people to have an opportunity to work while also wanting them to follow the law?
JR: Well, I think those issues of public drinking should definitely be divorced from any talk about undocumented workers because that problem is not just with undocumented workers. That problem occurs throughout the county. It occurs in my neighborhood, less so in the last couple years. And I’ve personally been disappointed with the county police’s response when I’ve called and told them there’s been public drinking and noise violations and so forth. So if the county’s going to do, enforce, its noise regulations, its public drinking regulations, it should be done in an equitable way.
HT: What else haven’t I asked you that you were going to tell the ten people that were going to be here today, had they shown up?
JR: Back to the idea of establishing a public housing authority. One of the key reasons why we’re promoting this is also to create some workforce housing. Right now, about 70 percent of county employees, meaning teachers, first responders and government employees, bureaucrats, don’t live in Arlington….I’m sure for some of them it’s a choice, but I’m sure for many others it’s an issue of affordability. What a public housing authority would allow Arlington to do is to set aside dedicated workforce housing for the people who serve our communities.
HT: That gets into another question for me, though. Do we run into a problem that we’re setting aside one group of people to get extra benefits over another?
JR: I think it should be a priority for Arlington to say that if we’re asking of you to serve our community, to put in long hours for not necessarily great pay, we should at least make living near your work more easy, more feasible. But you raise an interesting issue, and this goes to the critique of the whole development process in Arlington. That is, according to the county for every luxury high-rise that goes up, there are 50 low-wage jobs that are created. These are mainly service sector jobs like cleaning, security and the fast-food retail that goes into the façade of some of these buildings. So, this is not, it’s not, just an issue of giving people an opportunity to live where they work, it’s also an environmental, transportation issue….Let’s face it, you can’t live in Arlington on seven or eight dollars an hour, it’s impossible, unless you’ve got some kind of housing arrangement that violates the county’s codes. So, when we’re asking people to commute in from Woodbridge or from Manassas or maybe even further to fill all these low-paying jobs that the county’s development strategy is creating, then we’re also overburdening the transportation infrastructure; we’re increasing carbon emissions by added gas being burned and so forth. So I would very much like to see Arlington kind of reorient its development path from luxury development that benefits the rich and forces the rest out of the community to one of a more inclusive community where a lot of different people from different socio-economic backgrounds can live and thrive.
HT: How do you do that, though, in Virginia where counties are largely at the control of the state for regulations here? Does that go back to the housing authority for you?
JR: Absolutely. Absolutely. And the fact that the county has a policy tool that it has chosen not to exercise, I think is a huge failure….
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